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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Industry Insights: Interview with Jamie Shakeshaft, Bibliographic Metadata Assistant

By Anna Cowan, Gabriela Kaczmarek, Kat Lenahan and Molly Arabella Kirk


Jamie Shakeshaft tells us about her work with the book data that keeps the industry running.

 

Tell us about your job – what does a bibliographic metadata assistant do?

 

My team and I make sure all the metadata that goes out from us to retailers, and what you see online about each book, is correct and up to date. This metadata includes things like the title, subtitle, publication date, extent, format, copy, etc., and is kept on the publishing system, Biblio, where I spend 90% of my time. Personally, I do a lot of work within the central inbox that we use to manage requests from other departments such as Editorial, Sales and Production. This is where we’re asked to move publication dates or update titles before publication, and other metadata tweaks. Sometimes we get more complex requests, as my team are the company’s Biblio experts. 

 

Alongside these changes, I help with cleansing tasks and projects, which can be anything from clearing unnecessary Biblio fields on a number of titles, to updating a bulk of prices. There can be quite a bit of working with other departments to finalise book data, but we also give advice on best practice – for example, what Amazon will and will not allow when it comes to descriptive copy or subtitles. We also run regular reports from Biblio, which come out as Excel sheets, to check for certain issues. For example, I run a weekly report of every title coming out that week to check that everything (title, author, descriptions, cover, etc.) is correct on Biblio and therefore will feed out to retailers accurately. 

 

We also set up ISBNs by getting the relevant information from Editorial and Sales, and inputting it into the system, which includes special sale items (for companies like The Works). Something else I do is classify titles with BISAC and Thema codes to make sure they are accurate, and that the books will be categorised properly in the right sections of shops. 

 

Like many publishing hopefuls, you started by studying English Literature. What drew you to a metadata role?

 

My English Literature degree is where I figured out that I wanted to work in publishing, but my Publishing MA is where I learnt more about the background work in the industry and first learned about Biblio. After this, I had a temporary job setting up a digital filing system and organising physical files in an office, and here I realised that I enjoyed the element of organisation in my work. So, when I read the job description for the Metadata Assistant role, it seemed like a good combination of the two. I could work with books, knowing that I’m passionate about the products, but in a role that suits my organisational skills and detail-orientation. It’s also nice to get an insight into different areas of the industry and communicate regularly with other departments. 

 

Which two skills would you say make you well-suited for your job?

 

My level of organisation is definitely super helpful in the role. I personally run several weekly and monthly reports, and my team also receives a lot of requests through the central inbox from all the divisions (Transworld, Vintage, etc.) which need to be actioned quickly, as well as receiving them directly ourselves. In the background of these tasks are the cleansing and projects that we run, so being able to prioritise well, work independently and manage your time is important. 

 

Another helpful skill is being detail oriented. Not only do you need to be able to remember the details of different Biblio processes and make sure you’re making accurate changes, but it’s also important to avoid any mistakes if you’re making a large quantity of updates. It can be easy to make a typo when you’re changing the price of around 100 books if you don’t pay full attention. You also need to be able to spot any potential mistakes in requests that are sent to us. For example, we publish books on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but sometimes an editor might request a book be moved to a Wednesday by mistake, so we have to be able to spot and flag that before making the change. 

 

In 2023 you shared your insights on Biblio as a guest speaker with The Society of Young Publishers – could you share your top tips for using the software?

 

It’s quite hard to learn how to use the system until you’re in a publishing company and already using it, and each publisher uses it slightly differently, but hiring managers will know this and be understanding. I hadn’t ever used Biblio until I started in my role – I’d only seen screenshots of the system on my MA. But I think it was my eagerness to try and willingness to learn that helped me get my job. 

 

My best tip is honestly to find someone that knows the system better than you (whether that’s someone in your team or the Biblio team, if you have one) and simply ask them questions and have them show you things. Many people in my team have been there for years, but there’s very much a culture of asking for help when you need it or have forgotten how something works. When I started, I was eager to learn, so I would get a demonstration from someone, and ask whenever I needed help. I also took lots of notes (and still refer to these now) to make sure that I documented the process and reasoning behind tasks. This allows you to check your own notes when you need to and feel more confident doing things on your own. Don’t forget that publishers will have training sessions on Biblio, ranging in detail, so take advantage of those as well. Running reports is also useful in a lot of roles, and you won’t break anything by running one! So, you can play around with the filters to see what you can get. 

 

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